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I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard of Earth Day, which is celebrated around the world every year on April 22nd by demonstrating support for environmental protection. Organizations set up trash pick-up events, people get together to plant trees, and corporations often announce sustainability measures. On Earth Day this year, a new 501c(3) non-profit organization called the Million Waves Project launched in order to help solve two global problems at the same time – reducing plastic waste and providing people in need with prosthetics. The organization’s specific goal is to use recycled plastic to 3D print inexpensive prosthetics for children around the world.

But have you ever heard of World Environment Day? Held every year on June 5th since 1974, it is the UN’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment.

Now, less than a week after World Environment Day, which is actively working to put a stop to plastic pollution, another ocean-saving group is teaming up with the Million Waves Project on its mission to turn plastic ocean waste into 3D printed prosthetic limbs. The Washington CoastSavers program, organized by a wide range of participating public agencies, non-profits, corporations, and community groups, is engaged in saving the Pacific Coast of Washington from harmful marine debris.

“Closing the loop by reclaiming marine plastics is the ideal situation for the waste collected during our cleanups,” said Nicole Harris, a Washington CoastSavers Steering Committee member. “It is so exciting to partner with Million Waves Project on this creative and thoughtful solution to our plastic pollution problem. Being able to provide a resource for such a good cause adds to the reward our volunteers feel in doing their already impactful work.”

Washington CoastSavers beach cleanup.

Every year, an estimated 28 billion pounds of plastic trash is dumped into our oceans, and it’s even believed that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by the year 2050, which is a sobering thought. Another harrowing statistic is that right now, there are roughly 40 million people in the developing world who don’t have access to the prosthetic limbs they need.

In the state of Washington alone, thousands of pounds of plastic waste are collected each year. The most recent beach cleanup by the Washington CoastSavers netted the program 18.8 tons of garbage – all thanks to the nearly 1,300 volunteers who pitched in to help. By teaming up, the Million Waves Project and the Washington CoastSavers will be able to “close the loop” on plenty of the state’s plastic pollution, and put it to good use.

“It is amazing to work with Washington CoastSavers and watch things come full circle,” said Laura Moriarity, the COO of Million Waves. “The plastic that washes ashore and is collected by a group of passionate people will become something life-changing for a kid—it’s an incredible thing.”

Most of the plastic garbage collected during the Washington CoastSavers’ ongoing beach cleanups is either sent to local recycling centers or landfills, but now that the group is working with Million Waves, any recycled marine plastic that’s usable will be sourced and processed by the non-profit, then turned into prosthetics instead. Soon, the program hopes to be able to provide a place for all of the waste to go once it’s been collected and is waiting to be turned into 3D printed limbs.

Million Waves wants to kick things off by first processing the PET plastic (food and drink containers) collected by the Washington CoastSavers volunteers. They’ll clean it, pulverize and extrude it, then spool the recycled plastic and 3D print prosthetic limbs on an Ultimaker 2; e-NABLE provides the organization with general support, in addition to templates for the prosthetics.

At the Washington CoastSavers International Coastal Cleanup event this September, both groups are planning to meet up to not only collect some plastic pollution, but also to celebrate the new partnership together. Then, Million Waves will start turning the waste into 3D printed prosthetic limbs.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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